AUSTIN (KXAN) — As college admissions become more competitive, some Texas families are willing to pay top dollar for pricey college application consultants.

Despite a recent surge in college applicants following the pandemic, the class of 2026 saw record low acceptance rates, even at public universities.

For Fall 2022, The University of Texas at Austin accepted only 29% of applicants — the lowest rate of any public college in the state.

Though low acceptance rates may seem like a mark of popularity among top universities, former UT admissions counselor turned private consultant, Keven Martin, says it’s a sign of a dysfunction.

“Ambiguity, combined with the lack of transparency from the universities, just causes a ton of anxiety and stress,” Martin said.

Martin said the lack of standardized admissions requirements is partly thanks to the holistic review process, which considers a combination of students’ academic standing, test scores, recommendations and other accolades. Holistic review is often applied to applicants who do not meet class ranking cut offs for automatic admission.

At UT, all students who do not graduate from the top 6% of their class are subject to holistic review. For non-athlete, non-auto admit applicants, UT’s acceptance rate is as low as 9.5%, according to Ivy Scholars.

“You could have 1600 on the SATs, 4.0 GPA, great resume and still get rejected from most or everywhere that you apply,” Martin said.

This is where the multi-billion dollar college consulting industry comes in. Families desperate to get a leg up in the admissions process can hire a private firm to coach their student from as early as 8th grade.

Martin said he mostly works with affluent families and students who already have good academic standing to perfect their college essays, get their resumes in line and support them through the application process.

Martin charges anywhere from $7,500 to $13,000 for his services — but that’s not even the highest end of the market. Some larger consultancy firms charge up to $150,000 while promising their clients admission into the nation’s top schools.

Though Martin freely admits his services price out most middle and low income families, he says that his business is just a symptom of a wider problem: unequal college preparation resources across Texas schools.

Studies show that students in rural and under-served schools are less likely to apply to higher education and receive bachelor’s degrees thanks to a lack of standardized test prep and college readiness advising.

“It’s absolutely unfair,” Martin said. “My services wouldn’t exist if we didn’t live in a society that was already unfair and unequal, and those fissures were exposed during the pandemic.”

Aside from his consulting business, Martin also shares free college admissions guidance on his blog and Youtube channel.